This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Siena chapter.
I first crossed paths with Alicia Anabel Santos in my First Year Seminar class, conducted by Michelle A. Liptak. Although Alicia isn’t a direct staff or student member, I strongly believe she is still as much a part of the Siena community as anyone else. This is because of the inspiring impact she’s had on not just me, but everyone within the Siena borders and beyond. After meeting her for the first time, I knew I needed to know more.
Alicia Anabel Santos came into my class on March 16th, giving an emotional and eccentric presentation on Afro-Latino culture, and I was absolutely mesmerized. Although I’m unable to directly identify with the majority of conflicts many people experience along the lines of race, I am still intrigued to learn about cultural differences, and I seek to promote equality amongst all people. Alicia’s presentation only strengthened the awe I already had towards modernism and justice, and if anything, she opened my eyes to the reality of the world and the extent of racial problems, specifically amongst Afro-Latino’s. After listening to her presentation, which consisted of the making of an Afro-Latino documentary and her personal experiences, I knew there was no way her hard work, dedication, and inspiration could go unnoticed amongst the Siena community. I believe she is an inspiring individual and an excellent role model for anyone, whether it’s due to her achievements or just her extraordinary personality. It comes down to the fact that she simply motivates people to do good in the world in their own unique way, something many people overlook.
An important part of making a difference in the world and being a leader, which Anabel certainly does not fail to do, is knowing who you are as an individual yourself. When I asked Alicia, “How would you describe yourself as a person?” she responded, “I would describe myself as a woman who is, above everything, loving, kind, and generous. I like to think that I’m fun and someone people can come to who they trust with their thoughts and ideas, or for council on life issues.” If anything, I believe Alicia is exactly that, and more. With the short hour I spent in her presence, I could easily identify the fact she was quite possibly the least judgmental person on this earth, having a very easy going and open minded attitude. I could also tell that she full-heartedly cared about what she had to say, which, unfortunately, is not as common in today’s world as it should be. People often look past the message and the meaning and seek only the benefits, not the progress. Alicia is an excellent example of someone who seeks change in the right way. She’s concerned with matters that affect large groups of people, not just herself, and with the progress that is being made, not just what she hopes to get out of it in the end. I think this is something we should all take into account when working towards a goal. This sets Alicia apart from many people, and makes her someone to look up to.
Alicia Anabel Santos’ inspiration doesn’t stop with her personality; it thrives on through her career. She has made a career in writing, which may make me partially biased towards how much she inspires me since I seek, too, to be a writer someday. I asked her why she became a writer, and, in short, she said she had an epiphany:
I began my writing career after 9/11 when the towers came crashing down in New York City. That moment in history propelled me to begin analyzing my life. I began to worry about where I was in my life, what I have been doing, and then, if I had died in those towers, how would I want my daughter to remember me? Leaving a legacy for my daughter felt urgent. I decided that I would write my life story for her. Now I write because I love it. I love it and hate it. Writing can be hard and lonely. The words don’t always come. But I write because our stories matter. I write to read narratives where I can see myself depicted in the story. I write because it’s an act of service. Through my writing I give the deepest parts of me away. (Santos)
The story behind why Alicia became a writer is truly an intriguing one. It shows just how important it is to do what you love and to make something of yourself, because you never know when everything could be taken away. Alicia realized this, so in order to leave a legacy of herself behind for her daughter, she prospered and flourished in the written world, and that’s why she’s so accomplished today.
I asked Alicia Anabel, “What are your best accomplishments?” and, “What are some of your most memorable successes?” To this she said her greatest accomplishment was becoming a mother. “Being a mother was the pivotal moment in my life where I began to search, dig, learn, and seek meaning to some of life’s challenging questions,” she said. Alicia told me that some of the questions she asked herself and sought out answers to were: How do I become a better human? How do I transform my pain into healing? How do I raise a healthy daughter to become confident and self-actualized? Eventually, through Alicia’s searching, she cleansed herself of some “conditioning and programming” that she was raised with. Then, Santos said that her most memorable moment was watching her daughter graduate from Syracuse University and seek graduate school at Sarah Lawrence. No matter what her daughter decided, Alicia said she would always love her and support her decisions. She also said that a close second to her most memorable moment was watching herself excel in being a writer and producer for the documentary, Afro-Latino’s and Untaught History, the documentary Alicia showed my class.
Of course, along with asking Santos about her successes, I had to ask her about her failures too. The very first thing she said was, “We learn from our failures!” which is something that is painfully true. Think of a time you did something you knew you shouldn’t, took someone or something for granted, or just didn’t try as hard as you could have, and then think of the consequences that coincided. Alicia Anabel Santos definitely learned this the hard way. This is her story:
I was about to resign from this multi-million-dollar company I was working at, and before leaving I was going to have my final hurrah. I was in charge of organizing a huge sales meeting for over a hundred employees. It was at a posh hotel, I was responsible for all of the logistics, transportation, hotel and dinner reservations, team building activities and meetings. I was in charge of everything that goes into putting together a sales conference of this magnitude. While I was at the event my boss at the time said, “Alicia, have fun! Have a great time.” And I did… On the company’s dime. I had private yoga lessons, ordered room service, and got a manicure and pedicure before leaving. The event was a huge success! A few weeks before I would be leaving the company in pursuit of my dream of being a writer. Hours before I was called into the office I could feel that something bad was going to happen that day. I remember tossing a beautiful coin in my hand that was given to me by a spiritual sister and I was tossing it in my hands and praying on it. The vice president and my boss called me into the office to ask me questions about my expenses. They couldn’t believe how much I had spent. They were disappointed in me. I was humiliated. Not only did they escort me from the building, they demanded that I pay back every cent, approximately $4,000 dollars. This was the total amount I had saved for my move to New York. The job I had in NYC was taken off the table. My plan was completely destroyed. I was devastated.
They paid me two weeks and severance and I went home. I did not tell anyone what I was going through. I cried alone in the shower. One afternoon the vice president of human resources called me to check in, “Alicia, I just want you to know that anyone who calls here looking for a reference for you, we will give you a great recommendation. You were loved here.”
“So now what are you going to do?”
I swallowed my tears and said, “I am still going to New York.” I only had about $150 to my name.
“I am really happy to hear that Alicia. It’s so important to keep your commitments!”
I will always remember those words. I think about them often. It is important to be someone who honors your commitments. What an incredible lesson. That mistake happened 14 years ago and I am thrilled to have achieved so many amazing things, and I have never left New York!
She said that people are often too afraid or embarrassed to admit their failures, and that they don’t know what to do when they make a mistake that has the potential to ruin their future. This being the case, the moral of her personal story is always honor your commitments. Even though it may not seem like you’re in the position to confront them, you will never have the chance to achieve them if you keep holding back and putting them off. You have to keep your word and stay true to yourself, because then, failure is never an option.
Other important aspects in the making of a great individual are their personal influences and inspirations. I asked Alicia if she could, “Name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you,” and she said Kevin Belden, her mentor. “He was the first boss I had the pleasure of working with. He was invested in my success and it was not uncommon for us to have lunch together to plan my future. He had a profound impact on my life. He is the reason I believe in supporting others.” Kevin’s support for Alicia was her influence for supporting others, one of her most profound characteristics. She said that one of the greatest losses in her life was when he passed away from a heart attack, which she was the one who found him. “I lost a friend and mentor. I will always be grateful for his influence in my life.” If you are someone who is inspired by Alicia Anabel Santos, like me, you will be wise to thank Kevin Belden for the obvious and great impact he’s had on Alicia’s beliefs, because Alicia would not be who she is today without his influence.
As the interview questions approached their end, I started asking Santos her opinions about leadership, because I thought Alicia’s views on leadership were essential in identifying what makes a great leader, since she does not at all fall short of this. She said that she ensures her organization and its activities align with her core values by following the golden rule, treating others the way she would like to be treated. “I believe in lifting people. Encouraging, supporting, loving, and being vulnerable are very much a part of my core values.” She said that leaders should possess the trait of being generous, and having the ability to be a mentor. Unfortunately, many leaders today fail to meet this quality, and Alicia agrees. When I asked Alicia, “What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?” she replied, “They are losing good talent, not utilizing, underpaying, and are not emotionally invested in their employees. This is a mistake.” I couldn’t agree more, because going back to what was said earlier, people are often solely interested in themselves, not others, no matter how much other people may have contributed. She also said that a mistake she has witnessed leaders make is missing their mark, due to the fact they make invisible the team they have. She said that leaders often derail from their careers when, “they do not nurture talent and share the achievements and accomplishments with their team.” As cliché as this sounds, there really is no “I” in “team.” Santos said that in order to grow and develop as a leader, she enforces “learning, sharing, and teaching.” Ultimately, she says, “A great leader invests in their talent…. I believe that a good leader really cares about nurturing and building others.” In short, Alicia Anabel Santos believes that an exceptional leader is more about focusing on the “we” instead of the “I.”
Unfortunately, the interview had to come to an end eventually, even though I’d still be questioning her in this moment due to the fact I’m so interested in her personality and accomplishments. So, I finally asked Santos, “If you could tell the world anything, what would it be?” To this she said words that will ring in my ears beyond the day I die. She said, “You matter! Your story matters! Your voice! Don’t allow for people, society, and systems to mute what you have to say. Whatever you decide to do in with your life, do it with love!” If this doesn’t say anything about who Alicia is, I don’t know what does.
Lastly, I’d like to write a personal thank you to Alicia Anabel Santos, for her inspiration, passion, and determination. She truly makes an impact in this world, and if anyone has the chance to get to know her, I wouldn’t pass that up for a lifetime.